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Teens More Worried About Pregnancy Than STIs

Media Release
Tuesday, 31 May, 2005

Teens More Worried About Pregnancy Than Sexually Transmitted Infections

Research by Otago University’s Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences shows that although half of teenagers in year 12 and 13 in Christchurch are sexually active, only 44% of them say they use condoms every time they have sex. They also don’t feel it’s important to use condoms to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STI) such as chlamydia.

Researchers Gillian Abel and Dr Cheryl Brunton have just published their results in the ‘Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health’, after surveying 1136 students in 17 state and private schools in Christchurch.

“Young people seem to be more worried about preventing pregnancy than catching a sexually transmitted infection, even though these infections can have significant health consequences, such as infertility, in later life,” says Gillian Abel.

The main reasons teenagers give for not using condoms are that: they don’t think they or their partners have an infection, they think that condoms are not effective in preventing infections, they don’t think they or their partner will get pregnant, or they use other methods of contraception. Boys are more likely than girls to think that they aren’t at risk of STI. Older girls are less likely to use condoms because they use other methods of contraception, like the pill.

At present there is a low prevalence of chlamydia (2%) amongst sexually active teenagers who are still at school. However these results cannot necessarily be generalised to all 16-18 year olds, as research shows teenagers who leave school early are more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviour.

Ms Abel says denial of risk of infection needs to be addressed, especially amongst young males. “It’s possible to understand why teenagers might not feel they are at risk of STI. Pregnancy is a consequence of unprotected sex that is very visible to their peer group, whereas STI are not”.

She says basing their decision not to use condoms on this kind of “amateur epidemiology” leaves young people vulnerable. It reflects a common problem in sexual education programmes for this age group. The way to achieve more consistent condom use among young people may be to address their perceptions of vulnerability to STI, and the long term consequences of these infections, she says.


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